TRIBUTES have been paid to an allotment holder who died after a severe fire broke out at his shed.

Ronnie White, who was thought to be in his mid-70s, died on Wednesday morning in the blaze at Rossmere Allotments, in Hartlepool.

Police and firefighters have said the cause of the fire was accidental and the circumstances are still under investigation.

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The blaze tore through Mr White’s wooden hut in only 20 minutes. Flames reached 15ft high and it was estimated that temperatures reached 800C as glass melted at the scene.

Firefighters arrived within four minutes, but the blaze was already intense.

Other allotment holders said they believed paraffin used for a stove could have caused the fire, and said Mr White’s mobility had been reduced following a stroke.

Friends of Mr White, who is believed to have been married and a former serviceman, gathered at the scene of the accident yesterday and shared memories of him.

They said he would often socialise in Hartlepool’s Navy Club and was a big supporter of the Help for Heroes charity.

Gardener Ron Hadfield said: “He’d had stroke and couldn’t really manage the garden. I used to work with him as a partner on the allotment.

He used to like to come down and chat to everybody.”

Louise Calvert, secretary of the Rossmere Allotment Association, said: “He was a very nice person. I just remember him as a lovely man.”

A joint statement from Cleveland Police and Cleveland Fire Brigade said: “A man, believed to be in his 70s, died at the scene.

“A post-mortem examination was conducted to ascertain the cause of death and we are awaiting the conclusion of this. The cause of the fire is accidental and it is believed that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident.”

Three fire engines attended, two from Hartlepool and one from Billingham.

Mr White’s family at his home in Armadale Grove, in Hartlepool, declined to comment.